The Portrait of a Lady by Khushwant Singh

 

THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY –THE THREE PHASES OF AUTHOR’S RELATIONSHIP WITH HIS GRANDMOTHER AND JUSTIFICATION OF THE TITLE

  • Three phases of the author’s relationship with his grandmother

The author and his grandmother spent long years with each other. Although the author lived close by his grandmother since his childhood, their relationship changed widely with the growing up of the author. In the story we see three phases of relationship that the author shared with his grandmother till he went abroad to study for five years.

The author’s parents went to leave in the city leaving him with his grandmother when he was a mere boy. It was at this time that the author and his grandmother shared a close bondage. A very good friendship developed between the two. Every morning the grandmother would walkup the author and dress him up for school. She recited her morning prayer in a sing song way during the whole time she bathed and dressed him up with the hope that her grandson would learn it.

But her grandson heard her only because he loved her voice. After dressing him up she would bring his wooden slate and his red pen and his small ink pot made of earth. Every day before going to school she used to wash the wooden slate and then plaster with yellow chalk. She would tie all these in a bundle and give the bundle to her grandson. The author used to have breakfast on stale chapatti which was spread with a little butter and sugar on it and then left for school with his grandmother.

The old lady always carried several stale chapatis with her for the village dogs. She always accompanied her grandson to school as the school was attached to the temple. The priest gave the children lessons on alphabets and morning prayer. The author use to sit on the verandah along with other students and sing  the alphabets or the resist the prayer in chorus while his grandmother sat inside the temple and  read scriptures. They always walked back home together.

But this friendship between the grandmother and her grandson did not last long. When the author’s parents were well settled in the city, they sent for him and his grandmother. It is here in the city where the second phase of relationship between the author and his grandmother begins. This phase shows a gradual distance developing between the grandmother and her grandson though they still shared the room. Now his grandmother did not follow him to school anymore. He was now admitted in an English school where he went in a motor bus. As there were no street dogs to be fed she took to feeding sparrows in the courtyard.

As the years rolled by the grandmother and the grandson saw less of each other. For sometime the grandmother continued to wake him up and get him ready for school. On his return from school she would ask about the day’s lesson. The author told her English words, Western science, Archimedes’ Principal, the world being round and so on. She felt unhappy as she no longer could help him with his lessons.  This is because she believed, decent people has no business with music. Although she made no verbal protest, she talked rarely with her grandson since then.

The third phase of the relationship between the author and his grandmother begins with his joining the University. The relationship lost its intimacy. He was given a room if his own which shattered the common link between the two. She accepted this seclusion without any protest.  At this time she used to feed the sparrows  . She rarely talked to anyone. The sparrows use to sit on all over her body. They were on her shoulder, on her legs,  and even on her sat head. For her this half an hour seemed to be the happiest moment. Then came the time when the grandson took the decision of going abroad for higher studies.

At this time the author was without a doubt that his grandmother would become upset at his decision since he would have to stay away from her for five long years. But he was surprised to see his grandmother was not at all sentimental. Rather she came to see him off at the railway station. She neither did talk nor show any emotion. Her lips were busy telling the prayers, her thoughts lost in prayers and her fingers busy counting the beads of her rosary, while she kissed his forehead.

In these three phases of the author’s relationship with his grandmother we see how the intimate bondage between the two loosens with the passage of time. Although the love never fades but time and situation has drifted the author away from his grandmother. And the old lady instead of complaining has very stoically accepted her life of seclusion.

 

  • JUSTIFICATION OF THE TITLE

In his short story “ The Portrait of a Lady “ , Khushwant Singh had pen-portrayed his grandmother with whom he shared a very intimate bondage since his childhood. His parents shifted to the city leaving the boy to live with his grandmother. The friendship between the two began since then. Every morning the grandmother woke up the author and then she dress him up for school. All the while she bathed and dressed her grandson she recited her morning prayers in a sing song manner with a hope that her grandson would learn it. But the boy heard her only because he loved her voice.

She then fetched the boy’s wooden slate which she had already washed and plastered with yellow coloured chalk, his small earthen ink pot and his red pen. All these she used to tie up in a bundle and give to her grandson. . The priest gave the children lessons on alphabets and morning prayer. The author along with other students use to sit on the varanda and sing the alphabet and recite the prayer in chorus while his grandmother rumen inside the temple and read scripture . They always walked back home together.

The second phase of the relationship between the grandmother and the grandson began when the author’s parents after settling down in the city called them there. Here a change in their relationship is witnessed. Although they still shared the room, a distance between them gradually developed. She continued to wake him up and get him ready for school but did not follow him to school any more. The author went to an English schoolin a motor bus.  As the years passed by the two saw less of each other. On his return from school she would ask him about the day’s lesson but she felt unhappy as she could not help him in his present lessons.

She did not believe in the Western education taught in his school.  She felt disturbed the day she learnt her grandson would be getting music lessons. For her music had no business with decent people. She though did not protest verbally, talked to her grandson rarely.

The third phase saw a more distant relationship between the two. When the author joined the University, he was given a room of his own and this shattered the relationship between the two. But she accepted this seclusion quietly. The past of the day when she relax for some time was in the afternoon. during this time she fed the sparrows.

After five years when the author returned her grandmother went to receive him at the station. But now too she had no time to speak. Although she clasped her grandson in her arms her lips continued reciting the prayers. Even on that day her happiest moment were not with her grandson but with the sparrows. She fed them longer than she did on other days. She sang of the homecoming warriors. It was the first time ever the author saw her grandmother doing anything else other than reciting her prayers. The next morning he found his grandmother ill. Before anybody understood her lips stopped reciting the prayers and the rosary fell from her lifeless fingers.

Khushwant Singh draws a pen-picture of his deceased grandmother who was a lady of strict discipline and moral values. Her distance with her grandson too have her deep pain, but it was her dignity that prevented her to protest.Although she did not protest, she secluded herself from them and spent her times in reciting prayers, spinning the wheel and feeding the sparrows.

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